Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1074

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Rebecca Ferguson: Soul Catcher

Rebecca Ferguson
Rebecca Ferguson Rebecca Ferguson Rebecca Ferguson

Known internationally for her authentically-soulful, brooding vocals that originally saw her finish runner-up in the 2010 series of high-profile UK TV talent show âThe X-Factorâ, 27-year-old Liverpool-born-and-raised singer/songwriter Rebecca Ferguson this month releases her highly-anticipated second album âFreedomâ. Which, as the follow-up to her 2011-released million-selling debut LP âHeavenâ, is currently being pioneered by its powerfully-pounding, punchy lead-off single âI Hopeâ.

Interestingly, with âFreedomâ containing all new material (all once again impressively co-written by Rebecca herself) the soulful 12-track set finds Ferguson this time hooking-up with new production/songwriting collaborators like Jarrad Rogers (with whom she penned five songs) and Toby Gad (of Fergie and Beyonce fame), in addition to long-time collaborator Eg White. An experimental move which results in the albumâs emotive musical moods ranging from the haunting deep soul balladry of âFake Smileâ and the John Legend-featuring, string-laden âBridgesâ to the thudding drums and surging production of âMy Bestâ and celebratory, beat-heavy âBeautiful Designâ.

All of which in turn makes for a solid follow-up to qualified-legal-secretary Rebeccaâs acclaimed aforementioned debut album âHeavenâ. Which in addition to its Double-Platinum status in the UK (spurred on by the success of its acoustic-guitar-accompanied Top Ten single âNothingâs Real But Loveâ) also went on to attain bona fide global chart success, including a highly impressive Top Three placing in the US R&B chart - all ultimately resulting in prestigious nominations in both the MTV Europe and Soul Train Music Awards.

⦠Which brings us neatly back to autumn 2013. As, despite her raw-but-stunning first audition on âX-Factorâ singing Sam Cookeâs âA Change Is Gonna Comeâ three years ago revealing Rebecca as the painfully shy, woefully under-confident mother-of-two she was at the time, today itâs nevertheless a bubbly and chatty - yet still likeably-humble and ânormalâ - Ms. Ferguson who meets up with âBlues & Soulâ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis for lunchtime drinks at Sony Music UKâs buzzing Kensington HQ. Where she happily discusses - in soft-spoken, still-instantly-recognisable Liverpudlian tones - her highly-anticipated new album and single; her hook-up with US contemporary soul superstar John Legend; plus the highs and lows of her first two years in the limelight as in international singing sensation.

PETE: Letâs start by discussing the title of your new album âFreedomâ and the way it fits in with the overall lyrical theme

REBECCA: âMy reason for calling it âFreedomâ was because the whole album is really about EMPOWERMENT, about shaking off the old self and being free of OPPRESSION. You know, because Iâd kind of gone through quite a strange year where Iâd attracted a lot of odd people that literally just wanted to use me, a lot of the album became about fighting against that and finally breaking away from those characters and being free to be who you ARE⦠So yeah, in that way itâs really like a fight-back album with me expressing what I was going through at the time and basically saying âDonât let anyone hold you DOWNâ. I basically wanted to create a record that, when youâre feeling low and youâre feeling like the world is against you, you can put on and it just gives you that bit of strength to carry on with your day and not give UP.â

PETE: Musically overall Iâd say thereâs a definite harder, more beats-driven edge to the music this time roundâ¦

REBECCA: âWell just like on âHeavenâ, with this album I was working with some brilliant PRODUCERS. And so, because of the way I was feeling while we were recording, I think they realised that the vibe this time around did need to have a harder EDGE to it - which is why the beats are so PROMINENT. Like when we were working on âMy Freedomâ for example, I remember saying to Eg (White) âImagine youâre in a car driving and the bass is literally just HITTING you!â... You know, I wanted the beat and just the overall feel to be like really strong and really cutthroat.â

PETE: A definite highlight of âFreedomâ is of course your duet with US contemporary soul superstar John Legend, the hauntingly emotive ballad âBridgesââ¦

REBECCA: âYeah, that basically all began with somebody from the label getting in touch and saying âWeâve got this John Legend track heâs written with Steve Booker that we think would be brilliant with your voice onâ. And though - because I donât often like to collaborate or sing other peopleâs songs - at first I wasnât sure, once I heard it I was like âYeah, I could genuinely ADD something to thisâ... So I went to the studio, asked Steve what the core of the song was about... And then once he explained to me it was about two people at the end of a relationship, I literally just went in the booth and sang my HEART out! You know, I literally did put myself in the situation of that person in the SONG! Then once Iâd done my part, they sent it to John who straightaway was like âYep thatâs greatâ, he sent it back⦠And then from there we added a string section - which I got involved with on the creative side - and that was IT! The track was DONE!... And speaking from a personal viewpoint, Iâve got to say that for me to get that approval from someone like John - who I know has a lot of say in his music and is established enough to not HAVE to say âOh go on, Iâll let this person sing on my trackâ - was a really, really great THING.â

PETE: So whatâs the background to the albumâs powerfully-pounding lead-off single âI Hopeâ?

REBECCA: âWell again, âI Hopeâ is about people that had hurt me and that had really tested me to the point where I really, really hated them and thereâs no other way to EXPRESS that. Like I really did loathe these people in a way Iâd never felt towards ANYONE before - to the point where I was becoming not a nice PERSON. But then once I started realising that, I was like âWait a minute, what am I DOING?â... And I actually ended up going to CHURCH - which is something I donât often do, though I was brought up to be religious - and while I was there picking up a booklet that was all about FORGIVENESS. Then after that from there I went on to Jarrad Rogersâ studio, and I basically just turned to him and said âYou know, this has gone too FAR. I need to let this GO. I need forgive them for what theyâve done to me and I need to completely let myself be FREE, because if I donât itâs gonna eat me up!â⦠So I was like âPut me on the MIC!â - and as soon as he did I immediately came out with the lyrics âI hope life treats you good; I hope that she is KINDâ. Which was something that literally came from a very, very real place inside me of just forgiving the enemy and saying âLifeâs too short, I really wish you WELLâ⦠So yeah, thatâs actually the true story of how that song came ABOUT.â

PETE: Youâve been described as âfiercely proud of her working-class Liverpool rootsâ! So what was your early upbringing - in a one-parent-household with three brothers and sisters - like, and how did you first become interested in music?

REBECCA: âThe actual area I lived in wasnât too bad, it was more that we didnât have much. You know, with my mum not being well when I was growing up, it was all quite chaotic and I was pretty much pushed from pillar to post really. And so from an early age I kinda got it in my head that I could escape from my life at home by becoming a SINGER - which was the only thing I really CLUNG to through it all! You know, Iâd literally just spend hours in my room constantly listening to records, writing songs... Basically I just got used to channelling all that pain, and the things I was going through, into MUSIC.â

PETE: With Liverpool having, over the decades, proven to be such a hotbed of musical talent, do you feel growing up in the city itself helps cultivate an interest in singing?

REBECCA: âYeah, I do actually. I mean, in Liverpool everybody wants to be a singer, a dancer, a footballer, a wag... You know, thereâs a certain AMBITION in Liverpool - and music does play a big part IN that. Plus itâs also naturally a very TALENTED city. Which I think - with Liverpool having been a big port - may be down to all the different CULTURAL influences there. I mean, I myself started singing seriously as early as 15! I took a job in a clothes shop, got paid £20 a day - and then used that money to pay for singing lessons in a private MUSIC school! So even at that age I was thinking to myself âRight, I need to start training myself for this dreamâ. Then, as I got a bit older, I started to pay for my own recording sessions with the money I was earning - and from there I started AUDITIONING for different things... And I do think part of that early ambition in me was due to the environment of the city I was growing UP in.â

The single âI Hopeâ and album âFreedomâ are both out now through RCA

To read more from this fascinating interview with Rebecca Ferguson, including her look back at her time as an X-Factor contestant and her own personal journey since being in the X-spotlightâ¦get your copy of B&S magazine, available at all decent newsagents and magazine retailers nowâ¦you can also purchase your copy from our own online store and get it delivered to your door - just click on the link below.

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